Question: How often should I feed my baby, and for how long?
Renee Kam (lactation consultant): Many exclusively breastfed babies feed 8 to 12 times in 24 hours, at least in the early weeks. This usually means feeding your baby every 2 to 3 hours. You might have one longer stretch between feeds, this could be up to 5 hours for a baby under 6 weeks. You might also have 1 or 2 cluster feeding periods which are times when your baby feeds more often within a shorter period of time. For example, this could be 3 or more feeds within a few hours. As babies get older, they tend to feed less frequently.
Onscreen tip: For more on feeding cues, view the Baby Cues video guide on raisingchildren.net.au: https://raisingchildren.net.au/newborns/connecting-communicating/communicating/baby-cues
Renee: No matter how old your baby is, if you feed her when she’s showing signs of wanting to feed you will help her to get what she needs. A baby usually comes off the breast when she is finished. Generally, the older the baby, the better and quicker they are at feeding. Most babies feed from one best at some feeds and from both breasts at other feeds. Some babies only ever feed from one breast and others always feed from both breasts at each feed. As long as your baby is showing signs of getting enough milk, it doesn’t matter how often or how long she feeds.
Question: Do I need to wake my baby for feeds?
Renee: Most healthy, thriving babies who are showing signs of getting enough milk will wake by themselves for feeds. If this sounds like your baby, you don’t need to wake him for feeds. If your baby sleeps in your room at night, you will naturally wake up to feed him when he’s showing early feeding cues such as turning his head from side to side with his mouth open, sucking on his hands, sticking his tongue in and out, and making squeaky sorts of noises. By having your baby in your room at night and recognising those early feeding cues, you’ll be less likely to miss any feeds this way and your baby will be less likely to get to the stage of crying. Crying is actually a late feeding cue.
Some babies might be a bit sleepy in the early weeks after birth. This might be because of jaundice, or an infection, or if a baby is still affected by pain medications used during the birth. If this is your situation, you might need to wake your baby for breastfeeds until he starts waking by himself more often. For advice on this, speak with your midwife, child and family health nurse, or lactation consultant.
Onscreen: Further information about breastfeeding
Narrator: For further information about breastfeeding, call the Australian Breastfeeding Association helpline on 1800 686 268, talk to a lactation consultant and/or your child and family health nurse, visit the Raising Children Network website at https://raisingchildren.net.au, or the ABA website, https://www.breastfeeding.asn.au.